Yellow Perch Mousse, Eggplant Caviar, and Buckwheat Puff Pastry

Although my last ice-fishing trip brought back 100 yellow perch, some of them were smaller than others, to put it mildly. Once the heads, tails, skin, and bones were removed, I often ended up with fillets the size of my pinky. Lots of them. So just as when I made fish cutlets in a recent post, I decided to call my blender to the rescue once again, and make a fish mousse.

Since this is a Russian food blog, I had a good idea of the flavors I wanted to pair with the fish:

  • Buckwheat. I must say I’m very happy with this buckwheat puff pastry. I’m sure I didn’t invent it (a quick Googling shows a handful of matches), but it really tastes quite good.
  • Eggplant and parsley. You might recall a previous eggplant caviar recipe of mine, but this one is different, as the vegetables are 100% eggplant and I use gelatine to hold it together before sprinkling it with chopped parsley.
  • Dill. In Russia, the dish would probably have called for an entire bunch of dill. Here I’m just adding a little bit in my whipped cream rosettes. You could also try skipping the dill cream and adding the dill directly to the terrine instead.

Russian Cuisine - Yellow Perch Mousse, Eggplant Caviar and Buckwheat Puffs

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Cognitive Russian Beet Salad

Since I’m spending a week at the IBM food truck for the SXSW festival in Austin and don’t have a kitchen to work on my own recipes, let’s turn to Watson to make us something. (If you wonder what a food truck created by IBM looks like in the field, check out this article and video on Engadget.)

When I introduced the Cognitive Cooking technology, I explained how computers could be creative, and create novel and tasty recipes. It’s worth noting that rather than making all the decisions by itself, our technology engages in a dialog with the users, with repeated back-and-forth interactions between people and the computer. Yes, a machine can be creative, but more importantly, it can help humans be more creative themselves.

Cognitive Cooking - Russian Beet Salad

The Russian beet salad that James Briscione created is a great example. We started with beet as the main ingredient, and naturally chose Russian cuisine for inspiration, due to beets’ long association with Eastern European cuisine. James decided to make a salad, because this was sufficiently vague that he could have more flexibility in the preparation and the plating. The system came back with the following list of ingredients: beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, parsley, red wine vinegar, butter, white beans, pickles, prunes, black pepper (no margarine this time ;)). Sure enough, these were all very Russian. But did they really all go well together? We certainly hadn’t seen a salad quite like this anywhere else.

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Potato Waffles with Salmon Roe and Goat Cheese

I was recently reading about potato waffles in Culinaire Saisonnier, and it sounded to me like an original, yet also forehead-slappingly obvious, alternative to potato pancakes. I started to picture a decadent waffle oozing with caviar, though down-to-earth material considerations soon had me downgrading to salmon roe. I wanted to transform the idea into a recipe quickly, instead of putting it in my to-do queue where it might have sat for years. This is also a good recipe for Valentine’s Day, your last big excuse to overindulge until next fall’s holiday season!

Salmon Roe and Potato Waffle

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Lake Ontario Wild Duck and Goose Rillettes

Lake Ontario Wild Duck and Goose RillettesBack in early December, I went to Lake Ontario for my first duck hunt with Outdoorsman Bill. This may sound like a long trip for a few small birds. After all, there are dozens of Canada geese pooping all over the lawns as nearby as Westchester. Lake Ontario, however, sees a lot of waterfowl species, and in larger amounts. Plus, shotguns aren’t allowed in Westchester (believe me, I checked). Anyway, back to Bill. Not content just hunting ducks, Bill runs a small fleet of charter boats, guides on hard water, and owns a lodge across the marina. If you’re looking for him at the inn’s restaurant, the bartender will point at the live band. While most of the other hunters are sleeping off a long day outdoors before waking up at 4 am to do it again the next day, Bill plays live music at night.

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Syracuse Wild Turkey and Brook Trout Tartare

The idea for this recipe came to me last weekend, when I went hunting for wild turkey, and came home with three brook trout. The spring turkey hunt with Wayne was rather tricky this year: the gobblers didn’t gobble, and the ones we saw didn’t show much interest in our languorous hen calls. Having read an article in New York Game and Fish about trout fishing in Ninemile Creek, I decided to try my luck there while I was in the area. What I didn’t know is that Wayne happens to be friends with one Mike Kelly, who A) wrote the article I read, B) has been fishing Ninemile Creek for most of his life, and C) was generous enough to spend his Saturday afternoon showing me around with his friend Paul, despite having already hunted turkey and caught his limit of trout earlier the same day!

Hunting and Fishing - WIld Turkey and Trout Tartare

So, while I wasn’t completely successful in my little cast-and-blast trip, I thought it would still be interesting to create a Syracusan sportsman’s perfect May appetizer, a recipe that would highlight the delicate flavors of both trout and turkey, and at the same time showcase some spring produce.

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Latvian Hare Trio, Part 3: Hare Cheese, Onion Jam, Cornichons

This curious dish — which has very little to do with actual cheese — was actually what first motivated me to start my Latvian Hare Trio. The final result may look like a traditional pâté, but the preparation is quite different. Lesley Chamberlain’s Food and Cooking of Russia and Pokhlebkin’s Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples both contain fairly similar instructions: take a hare, roast it, braise it, grind it, then cook an omelette, grind it, and mix everything together with mushrooms and butter before baking in a dish, optionally wrapped in pastry.

I found that the result of this procedure had an unpleasantly dry mouthfeel, so I made several changes to improve it. In particular, cooking the leg meat as a confit was a big improvement, and it made little sense to use the precious hare loins. I also got rid of the bizarre ground omelette and used raw eggs to bind the forcemeat like a normal person. Finally, the onion jam and cornichons bring welcome touches of sweetness and acidity.

Latvian Hare Cheese

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Kutab, Azerbaijani Stuffed Flatbread

Kutabs are among the most popular Azeri dishes, together with plov, dolma, and of course kebabs (kebabs being a distant first: virtually the only meal you’ll ever eat in a restaurant outside of Baku). A kutab — not to be confused with kutap — is essentially a lavash filled with savory stuffing while still raw, then folded in half and pan-fried. It is often served with a sprinkling of sumac on top, a red spice which imparts a lemony note.

Baku - Mugam Club Restaurant

Classic lamb kutab, as served at Mugam Club in Baku

The most common kutab fillings are ground lamb and greens, with the occasional cheese or winter squash, but you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as the layer of stuffing remains quite thin. In addition to the four above-mentioned classics, all of which I’m presenting here with some personal tweaks, I’ve also created two new “signature” kutabs.

My first new kutab uses foie gras and pomegranate in a nod to all the Brooklyn restaurants that feature the fattened duck liver on their menus for no apparent reason other than it’s expensive and French. Baku Palace serves kutabs and foie gras as separate dishes, so why not put them together?

The second contains actual duck meat. I recently posted a duck breast kebab, and now you can use the legs (and the wings if you’d like) to make a kutab. Then you’ve got the whole bird turned into an Azeri dinner for 4!

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“Baku Palace” King Crab Salad

This recipe is inspired by the crab salad I ate at Baku Palace in Sheepshead Bay a few weeks ago (my restaurant review will come soon, but for now the place is still without power since Hurricane Sandy). The original recipe was terribly deceptive, as the dish, priced at $20 for two people, consisted of julienned cucumber, ground walnut, and… surimi.

So, in order to get rid of the feeling of being cheated, I figured I’d do my own version at home, for about the same price but with real king crab. I added a couple of elements to the recipe and I’m serving it on toasted bread, but the spirit remains the same. Compared to many other posts on my blog, this is surprisingly quick and easy to make. And still delicious!

Russian Cuisine - King Crab Salad

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Wild Boar and Porcini Pirozhki

Russian Cuisine - Wild Boar Pirozhki

Pirozhki are Russian buns, usually individual-sized and baked. As with varenyky, you can fill them with pretty much anything you want — in fact, you could even use the exact same fillings for pirozhki and varenyky. It’s not rare, however, to find more diverse recipes, some of then even in classic French cookbooks. Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire, for example, counts a dozen variations called piroguis (not to be confused with Polish pierogi), and the Larousse Gastronomique has a few similar pirojkis, many of which take some serious culinary license with the real deal.

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Varenyky, Ukrainian Ravioli

I’ve already posted a couple recipes for varenyky here and here, so I figured I’d come up with a third one — and write an entry with everything you’ll ever want to know about these Ukrainian ravioli.

Giant Pierogi - Glendon, Alberta

Picture courtesy of Fracture

But first, is it varenyky or vareniki? Well, it depends. The Russian word, вареники, should be transliterated as vareniki. But since this is in fact a Ukrainian dish, it makes sense to transliterate the Ukrainian word instead. And the Ukrainian word is… вареники. Even if you can’t read Cyrillic, you probably noticed the two are spelled the same. But they’re not pronounced the sameThe Ukrainian и is similar to the Russian ы, hence the transliteration with y’s. Big deal.

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